Much has been said about the possibility that a large number of people are leaving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That might be true, although it hasn’t been proven with certainty. A lot of what is happening now occurred in the 90s with high profile excommunications. The membership survived and actually for a time thrived. Even if the numbers are falling, there are areas of the world where it is growing. Culture and politics are as influential in determining the destinies of communities as truth claims and criticisms. Much of the apologetic work is not helping the situation, reacting rather than getting at the root of the problems.
There are two apologetic approaches that represent a majority of the attempts at recovering those who are losing faith. One of them is a more literal (for the most part) group that tries to explain history and doctrine with evidence that traditional narratives are generally true. Many orthodox members, if they know of them at all, appreciates these efforts with some reservations. Another group tries to embrace the skepticism of those who have left, coming up with reasons for them to stay despite questions and doubts. It would come as no surprise that orthodox members are mostly not impressed. Of course, there are degrees of apologetics that fall anywhere between the two. To put it bluntly, they are minimal effective tools used to help keep people from losing faith.
Losing faith is the real problem that hasn’t been taken care of sufficiently. It doesn’t matter the why of how it is lost. A person might find problems with the history, they might have been wronged by another member, they might have sinned, or they might have just gotten bored. A good amount of apologetics has focused on public reasons in the hopes of helping a large number of people at once. The Gospel is for the world, but God has only rarely delivered His word as a mass media event. He wants to touch the heart one person at a time. Above all else, people have freedom and cannot be forced into belief or faith or obedience.
Western society is lost.
Remember the warnings of the Book of Mormon? It seems that many faithful Mormons have forgotten the lessons of that marvelous work and a wonder. Time and again the Prophets and Apostles, and other teachers, have warned of the pride cycle. Although the problems of today have been building over a few generations, not since World War II has such a large number of people considered themselves above morality. They will deny that since what they have done is develop a set of morals that they think superior to tradition or religion. Because their morality is (as they perceive it) natural and logical, anyone who thinks differently is evil. Aside from that, having divorced themselves from religion of faith they are free to force others through the power of the State. Once the State has all the power any competition is seen as the enemy worthy of getting crushed. No amount of lies, propaganda, pressure, and social manipulation is too much. People have been told for so long how wonderful they are without all the old authority dragging them down that they are full of pride. They don’t need anyone other than feel good notions of who they are.
Having become hyper individualistic, especially in the electronic age of superficial relationships, they deny God. Again, they will claim to have found this evidence or that new thing that proves no God exists or that the Church has lied to them. The truth is, they had such little faith to start with that it was easy to push them away from the Holy Spirit and into the hands of secularism. Too many have lost the ability to form deep social connections that allows human civilization to remain intact. The newly unbelieving could care less if they have a relationship with God or the divine. Apologists, on the other hand, find it easier to write general rebuttals than find the individual lost sheep.
We should stop apologizing.
Maybe saying that is going too far, but how the faithful witness to those who lose faith has to change. We are playing by the rules of the world and that will always be a losing strategy. Too often they have made up their minds and that is why they left. Once they are gone then what efforts might have worked before that time are nearly useless. Even trying to “inoculate” against getting to that point has been a failure because the tools used are based on secular scholarship trying to argue a religious truth.
The only real way to help with keeping people in the Church is find a way to teach people how they can communicate with the Holy Ghost to gain a testimony. Nothing should be used other than the words of Scriptures, living Apostles and Prophets, and doctrine unadorned by sophistication. Obviously in the modern Western culture an approach such as this will be unpopular and against social trends. It does have the added advantage of having been endorsed by God since the beginning of time (if the Scriptures can be believed). Pure testimony will either bring a person to their knees or leave them without excuse when judgment comes.
Additionally, there should not be any fear calling out sinners to repentance. Too many are afraid either that doing so will drive people out of the Church or that it isn’t their responsibility. If done without inspiration and wisdom there is no doubt those fears are warranted. Holding back can be just as ruinous to the unrepentant individual and the whole Church membership. It is no good to have a hospital full of sick people who refuse the medicine that can make them whole, wanting instead quick fixes and alternative methods that will only act as a placebo. They reject the Master Doctor and will end up spiritually dead in the end, often seeking to take over the hospital. What will remain is a house of the living dead and not of the living God.
Unless the apologetic approach has directions for spiritual self-discovery and calls for repentance, it is probably best to let the sinners and those who have lost faith to leave. That is not to say that the door should be locked after they exit, but it should not be held wide open for just anyone to come and go. To do that is courting the devil to take over in the name of modern morality against the will of God and His Gospel. In that case all the pleading and arguments for the doubters to return will be in vain.
Above all, those who wish to bring people who have lost faith back must make it personal. It should almost never be done over e-mails, social networks, or blogs. They need to know that you care. Present them a full testimony no matter if they accept it, share your favorite Scriptures that keep your faith intact, and offer to pray with them. When none of this is working then let them go without protest. Don’t rely on intellectual or apologetic arguments that do little to invite the Spirit. They must be only a small part of a discussion. In the end, each person must decide for themselves and cannot borrow the oil of faith from others for long.